F-1 Student Visa

Student Visas are non-immigrant visas which enable you to study as a student in the United States.

The F-1 visa is for foreign nationals who seek to pursue full-time studies as full-time students at an established academic institution approved by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Dependents of the foreign national on F-1 visa – spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 are allowed to join the foreign national in the U.S., under F-2 status. F-2 visa holders cannot work while in the US nor attend school without changing their status to F-1. An F-2 child may attend school-elementary through 12th grade.

The F-1 visas are administered by Department of Homeland Security’s SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) Program through its Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

Training and Employment while on F-1 Visa

F-1 students may not work off-campus during the first academic year, but may accept on-campus employment subject to certain conditions and restrictions. All on-campus employments are to be applied with the Designated School Official (DSO) of respective institution. After the first academic year, F-1 students may engage in three types of off-campus employment:

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion)
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)

Curricular Practical Training (CPT):

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is work authorization for temporary practical training for students who are enrolled in higher education studies and currently pursuing their degrees. The temporary practical training can take place during the academic year while the student is enrolled full-time at a higher education institution and during annual vacations.

CPT can be part- or full-time, and it includes employment like unpaid and paid internships. However, the CPT employment must be an integral part of an established curriculum and the position must directly relate to the major area of study indicated on I-20.
CPT is to be applied with the DSO, which would be approved by DSO on case-to-case basis.

Optional Practical Training (OPT):

Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows students to gain real-life experience for a minimum period of one year as they train and work in a field related to their area of study.

OPT is available for all international F-1 student visa holders either while pursuing their studies or after graduating from a higher education in the U.S.

OPT is to be applied with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) using Form I-765, with prior approval of the DSO. Employment can commence only after the issuance of Employment Authorization Document (EAD) by the USCIS.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT):

Certain F-1 visa holders graduating with a degree in a STEM field are eligible to apply for the STEM OPT extension. This extension is good for 24 months and permits graduates to train and work in the U.S. in their field of study for up to an additional 2 years.

Entities engaging students on STEM OPT Employment have to be mandatorily registered in U.S. Government’s E-Verify program. More information on government’s E-verify program can be accessed at https://www.e-verify.gov/

STEM OPT is to be applied with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) using Form I-765, with prior approval of the DSO. STEM OPT Employment can be only with e-verified employers. Application for STEM OPT Employment Authorization must be filed before the expiration of OPT employment. Students can commence STEM OPT employment even without getting STEM OPT EAD and continue to work for 180 days while the STEM OPT Application is being processed by the USCIS. Any adverse decision by the USCIS on STEM OPT Application will terminate employment authorization with immediate effect.

Requirements to be eligible for F-1 visa:

  • Enrollment must be in an “academic” educational program or a language training program that results a diploma, degree or a certificate.
  • Enrollment must be as a full-time student at the institution.
  • The school must be approved by SEVIS to accept international students.
  • Prospective applicant must have the credentials to qualify for the intended full course of study and must establish, through documentation, the financial ability to self-support during the proposed course of study.
  • Prospective student must show proficiency in English language via recognized and approved testing examinations (viz., TOEFL, IELTS) or be enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency.
  • Lastly, the prospective student must exhibit the intent to return to home country, i.e., the “non-immigrant intent”. An F-1 visa is a temporary student visa, and the applicants must be having strong ties to their home countries.

Procedure for Applying for an F-1 visa:

  • Apply to an SEVP approved institution and get admission by following specific institution’s procedures.
    Once selected, the Institution will issue a Form I-20 and register you in SEVIS
  • Complete Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application at https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/, upload photos while completing the online Form I-160, and print the confirmation page for interview
  • Pay the non-refundable visa application fee
  • Make an appointment for an interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate

Documents required for applying for an F-1 visa:

  1. Valid Passport: Applicant’s passport must be valid for at least six months at the time of applying for F-1 visa.
  2. Form DS-160 Confirmation Page.
  3. Application fee (SEVIS fee) payment receipt.
  4. Photographs and Biometrics – Applicant will be required upload photo while completing the online Form DS-160. Alternatively, few U.S. Embassies/ Consulates have arrangements to setup a separate appointment for biometrics and photographs requirement. Applicants are required to follow the procedures of respective consulate they intend to apply at pertaining to completion of photographs and biometric requirement.
  5. Certified Form I-20 issued by the DSO of institution to which the applicant got admitted.
  6. Evidence of funds to cover expenses in the U.S., which include the tuition fees and living expenses for the duration of the academic program that applicant proposes to pursue.
  7. Educational Documents – documents in support of qualifying education which enabled to apply for the academic program in the U.S.
  8. Documentary evidence showing proficiency in English Language.
  9. Documentary evidence showing that applicant plans to remain in the U.S. only for the purpose of pursuing the academic program and plans to return to home country upon completion of program.
    1. Documentation should ideally show applicant’s strong ties to his/ her home country.